A blast of cold air hits me as I saunter off the plane in Pangnirtung – a remote, mostly Inuit community on Baffin Island in Nunavut. Instantly I am wondering just what the hell I’ve got myself into. It’s June 30th and I know it’s the Arctic but somehow I didn’t expect cold like this.
I have already endured a flight to Ottawa, another to Iqaluit and then finally one to Pangnirtung – the starting point for my backpacking trip into Auyuittuq National Park. This part of the world is not an easy – or an inexpensive place to visit. But I’m here because I have willingly signed on to do hump what feels like a 60 pound load to Akshayuk Pass in Auyuittuq National Park over the course of 11 days. It’s a place you’ve likely never heard of. There’s a reason for that.
It’s a frozen expanse of snow, ice and rock – tucked away from most of humanity. Auyuittuq National Park boasts a polar ice cap the size of Prince Edward Island, glaciers galore, icy rivers, fjords, lichen covered rocks and Mack truck sized boulders casually strewn about by retreating glaciers.
I’ve flown in with my husband and five others – two woman physiotherapist friends from Australia – Georgie, always the life of the party and Michele – a woman with an awesome set of adventures behind her already, Matthew – a strategist/anthropologist if I’ve got that right from Burlington, Ontario and a father and son team – Tom, a recent retiree from Maine and his son Noah, a financial type from Boston.
We are joined by two young Black Feather guides – Natalie who’s done this trip four times already and Daire from Ireland, a recent adventure guide graduate from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Since our plane is about seven hours late getting into Pangnirtung, we camp above the town behind windproof screens. It takes a while to get our tents set up – not that we all don’t have a lot of experience doing this sort of thing – but these are four season tents with six poles (so we don’t blow away in a wind storm) so it takes a while to figure out where all the bits go. Then it’s time for some wine – the last I’ll see for almost two weeks – cheese and conversation.
I don’t last long before I seek the warmth of my sleeping bag – plus I’m feeling sleep deprived and we have to be up and at it early the next day.
The start of our backpacking trip in Auyuittuq National Park
The next morning we pack up our gear – and try to separate out any items we won’t need for the next 12 days. I say goodbye to my computer and phone – quite happily – as there will be no chance of any WiFi while we’re in the park. We’re told to leave room for an additional 20 pounds or so of food – but quite frankly once my pack is on – without any food in it, I have serious concerns about my ability to carry any more weight.
Every visitor to Auyuittuq National Park must go through an orientation session so that was our first stop of the morning. We learned what the biggest killer in the park happens to be – and it’s not hypothermia but drowning when fording the glacier fed streams. And although our chances of seeing polar bears are slim we did watch a video about what one should do if you should see one. As a group I figured we’d be OK but alone I’d pray for a quick end. I might try stabbing it with my Swiss Army knife but really I’d expect to be dinner.
Next we were all given food – labeled by meal and day – and a one liter bottle of fuel. Somehow – and I don’t know how we managed to get everything into our packs. (Here’s the packing list if you’re interested – and I used everything except the one extra pair of heavy duty long underwear.)
We’re finally off to the dock to catch a one hour boat ride – to our start point at Mount Overlord. Departures – and pickups are always timed with the tides.
The boat ride was fantastic with one superlative mountain view after another.
By noon we’re on land and ready to go – but first lunch – to fuel ourselves for what lies ahead.
Other posts you might enjoy:
- Baffin Island Backpacking in Auyuittuq National Park: Part II
- An Unexpected Visit to Iqaluit in Nunavut
- Sunday Photos: Pangnirtung, Nunavut
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Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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